The list of players Pete Sampras has made famous at Roland Garros is long and ridiculous—Thierry Champion, Gilbert Schaller, Magnus Norman, Ram�n Delgado—but his second-round loss last week to 100th-ranked Andrei Medvedev may be the most ominous yet. Sampras's haplessness on clay is well known, but in his five-set, first-round win over 92nd-ranked Juan Antonio Mar�n and in the loss to Medvedev, he looked as lost as he ever has at the French. His serve a mess, his footwork faulty, his volleys dropping off his strings like rocks, Sampras seemed paralyzed by indecision.
His partisans will point out that coming into Roland Garros he had played fewer matches this year than any other seed—15, including only five on clay—and that he always revives at Wimbledon, but his troubles may go deeper than anything a frolic on the grass can fix. "His level was domination, and he won't dominate anymore: It requires too much work, and I'm not sure he's putting it in," said Andre Agassi, who cruised into the quarterfinals on Sunday. "His movement is a little bit off. He used to cover the running forehand a lot quicker. He's a lot like [Ivan] Lendl used to be: If he's not putting in the time on the court, he's not going to hit the ball real clean. And if he doesn't hit the ball real clean, he's a different player."
Lendl, with his three French Open titles and his famous failures at Wimbledon, knows better than anyone what Sampras is going through—certainly better than Sampras's coach, Paul Annacone, who as a tour player in the 1980s had an unwavering serve-and-volley game and never did well on clay. Last year Lendl offered to help Sampras prepare for the clay season, but Sampras declined. The offer still stands. So does the refusal.
"I know what I need to do," Sampras said after his loss to Medvedev. "Paul knows what I need to do. It's not because of the coach, it's not because of anything but me."
Message to Pete: If anything, your game on clay is regressing. For starters, you might get over to Europe early in the spring and play the clay-court season that precedes the French Open. You might also take some advice on clay-court strategy, if not from Lendl, then from USTA coach Jos� Higueras, who guided both Michael Chang and Jim Courier to tides at Roland Garros. It certainly can't hurt.
Capriati's Movable Feast
A Quiet American In Paris
More than any other Grand Slam event, the French Open specializes in the unexpected. But who could have predicted mat Jennifer Capriati would last longer at Roland Garros than Venus and Serena Williams?
Sure, the margin was measured in minutes. Capriati's fourth-round loss to No. 2 Lindsay Davenport ended moments after Venus fell to 125th-ranked qualifier Barbara Schwartz. But while Venus's limp performance—she blew three match points in the second set—sealed the Williamses' embarrassing Parisian face-plant, Capriati's showing was something to be proud of. With a tournament win in Strasbourg on May 22, her run at Roland Garros gave Capriati an eight-match winning streak, her longest since 1993. For the first time since her comeback began in '96, she was training consistently, handling attention from the media and taking charge of her life. "I was ready," Capriati said after her third-round win over Silvia Farina last Saturday. "It feels good, no, great. I just have a lighter feeling about everything. It's not like a dark cloud is hovering over me, like I used to feel all the time. I'm happy, and that shows in my tennis."
As recently as February, Capriati's vague commitment to training—"I would just kind of wander around, and so many other things would be going through my mind," she says—and her refusal to take on a coach made observers question whether she'd ever regain the form that took her to three Grand Slam semifinals in the early 1990s. When her father, Stefano, first contacted coach Harold Solomon in December, Solomon told him, "I want her to call me." She didn't.
"I didn't want to go for it," says Capriati, 23. "Fear of commitment." But at the beginning of March she decided enough was enough. She called Solomon, who'd worked with Jim Courier, Mary Joe Fernandez and Justin Gimelstob, and they talked for two hours. "I was really impressed," Solomon said last week. "I had worked with her about a year and a half ago for about four days, and she wasn't ready then to do the work. But when I got the phone call, I said to my wife, 'This is not the same girl.' "